In the United States, there are about 100 (+/-) host agencies that you can choose from if you decide to embark on a career as a travel agent. Each host agency has something unique to offer and only you can determine if that "uniqueness" is the right fit for you. For experienced agents who have been with host agencies, perhaps you need more from your host in order to take your business to the next level.
How can you determine if a host agency is the right fit for you? Let's take a look at some of the factors that you should consider before making a commitment to any of them.
Size of the host agency
For anyone brand new to the travel industry, you may have seen host agencies with thousands of agents as well as hosts with small numbers of agents. If you have no experience in the industry, other than planning your own trips or those for friends and families, think about which size host agency will likely offer you the most intense one-on-one training, mentoring, guidance, and accessibility to the things you need in order to make your business successful.
Our question bodes well even for experienced travel agents because perhaps you are feeling frustrated because you've been with a large host agency who doesn't return your phone calls or emails in a timely manner, nor do they have the time (or the inclination) to work with you on an individualized basis to help you reach your goals. You've been left on your own to navigate the complexities of the business and you are at a stand-still. Maybe, you're with a smaller host agency that has disappointed you.
No matter what level you are at in the travel agent/agency industry, determining if you are with the right host agency or if it is time to make a change, is something we all need to consider from time to time.
HAVE YOU MET YOUR "HOST"?
I started out in this business with a very large host agency (over 4,000+ agents). Unless I paid for the privilege of "meeting" the actual leadership team via training events or FAM trips, or reached a certain booking level, I was just another agent paying monthly fees. I was left to my own devices to use the online resources provided to figure everything out. Fortunately, I had spent 30 years "unofficially" in the travel business and much of it came naturally to me. That is not the case for most people.
When you work with a smaller host, chances are you are going to have a fairly close relationship with the owner or CEO of that host agency because they are invested in you - with their time, money, and commitment to see you succeed. Think about the business model of the ultra-large host agencies....your monthly fees keep them in business. In a smaller host agency, your monthly fees generally pay their expenses to help you stay in business by providing you with the tools you need, but your bookings and success are what matter to them most.
integrity & transparency
There are many ways to determine if your host agency operates with integrity and transparency...and there are moments where you will have "epiphanies" that remind you that all is not what it seems to be. This can range from promises made, but not kept, unpaid commissions or late commissions, rewards that you have personally earned from your bookings that go into a big general account where you need your host's permissions to use your rewards, finding out that your host agency is not properly licensed or that in fact, you are not covered under their EOL insurance, and to skimming commission levels (you are told the commission level is 15%, but in fact your host is getting 16-18% on your bookings).
It is imperative that you do your due diligence to find out how your potential host agency handles these types of issues. Ask for proof and documentation because your business is on the line, not to mention your reputation. When you find that a host has misled you on one issue, you can be sure there are others in which they will follow suit.
Unless your host has a crystal ball that has been verified as 100% accurate, there is no way for them to promise you a particular number of leads in any specific time period. Leads for travel agents are somewhat based on the direction of the wind and many factors can impact the number and type of leads that any agency receives: weather, world events, economic standstills, public health warnings, travel trends, and so much more.
When a host agency tells you that they guarantee leads, there are some very important questions to ask:
Do you see where I am heading with this? Simply hearing your host agency tell you that they provide you with leads does not make it so.
WHAT IS YOUR NICHE?
Your niche, or specialty, is perhaps one of the most important things to consider when you are selecting a host agency. If you basically plan to make booking cruises 90% of your business, working with a host agency that specializes exclusively in all-inclusive resorts is likely not a good match. If you are a European travel specialist, you will want to work with a host that has extensive experience in custom European bookings as well as solid relationships with suppliers in the European market. If group travel or romance travel is your niche market, be sure to find out if the leader of your host agency is a certified specialist in these areas. After all, if you wanted to be a world-famous sculptor, you wouldn't take lessons from a pianist just because you are both in the "arts". If your goal was to be a pastry-chef, you wouldn't sign on to mentor under a butcher, just because you are both in the food industry. The same holds true for travel agents when selecting a host: be sure that your host agency can provide you with the expertise you need to take your business to the next level.
Commission levels are important and they are generally the core of what agents look for in a host agency. However, there are some things to consider. Of note, 2017 seems to have resulted in a paradigm shift with suppliers: many are moving to tiered commission levels regardless of who you are or what consortia your host belongs to. What this means is that if your host cumulative books a tremendous amount with preferred suppliers, the commissions are going to be higher, but if a supplier you wish to use is not someone the host agency generally has bookings with, your commissions may be lower. This is true regardless of whether you are with a large or small host agency. Another factor to consider is related to your niche. If your business is based on cruise bookings and your host does not really specialize in cruises, chances are that you will not get the premium commissions you are looking for or are accustomed to.
Now, critical to your decision-making process is how and when you get paid by your host. It is imperative that you know this information in writing before you ever sign with a host agency. Verbal promises are meaningless and if your potential host does not have detailed, written policies and procedures for how and when you will get paid, run - don't walk, to the next potential host.
Most legitimate host agencies pay twice per month and provide you a payment and direct deposit schedule that you can rely on. Additionally, a reputable host agency will provide you with a written report so that you know what you are getting paid for. You should never, ever, have to beg to be paid for your commissions, track them down with suppliers, or "pay" to have your host agency look into it. If you are not being paid on time or consistently looking for unpaid, past-due commissions, this is cause for great alarm. We strongly suggest you consider moving on to a more reputable host agency and contact your attorney.
YOUR NEXT STEP
There are multiple ways in which to "vet" a potential host agency and we urge you to do so.
Stacey Ray is the CEO of Groupit Travel Host Agency and Groupit Travel (a consumer website that does generate leads for agents within the host agency). To learn more about Stacey, please click here.